Antigua and Barbuda Sells Out Over Whaling;
Central America’s Ominous New Security Force;
Congress Signals Change on Cuba;
Venezuela’s Oil-for-Votes Generosity

Fishing for Votes: Japan Bribes the Caribbean at the International Whaling Commission

Harsh words and accusations of bribery were flying at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting last week, June 20-24. Tensions flared over Japan’s challenge to the moratorium on commercial whaling adopted by the organization in 1986, a perennially controversial issue. Over the past two decades, Japan has been deservedly accused of skirting the ban by killing whales for profit under the guise of “scientific research” – studies that cost the lives of about 650 minke whales last year alone. Equally troubling, several IWC member nations as well as organizations such as Greenpeace and COHA have actively charged Japan with bribing the Commission’s smaller and poorer Caribbean nations with economic aid in exchange for their votes in favor of overturning the hunting bag.

The allegations were confirmed in 2001 when Japan’s former Fisheries Minister Maseyuku Komatsu told reporters, “Japan does not have military powers, unlike the U.S. or Australia… Japanese means are simply diplomatic communication and overseas development aid. So, in order to get appreciation of Japan’s position, of course, that is natural we must resort to those two major tools.” Antiguan Prime Minister Lester Bird, no great friend of the concept of public rectitude in office, revealed further evidence of foul play when he refused to deny trading votes for Japanese aid, saying, “We are able to support the Japanese and the quid pro quo is that they will give us some assistance. I’m not going to be a hypocrite.”

The Caribbean countries’ voting record confirms that some in the region have placed itself on the selling block. Although few of the eight Caribbean IWC members (which include Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Suriname) can legitimately claim to have a direct stake in the whaling industry, they have unswervingly supported Japan’s interests in the true samurai tradition. From 1992, when allegations of impropriety first surfaced, to 2005, the region have cast a combined 274 votes on numerous questions related to Japanese whaling interests. On these questions, the Caribbean countries have voted in line with the Japanese position an astounding 258 times, or on 94 percent of the votes. Issues have included opposing the founding of whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific in order to maintain open whaling waters, as well as favoring the institution of secret ballot voting to do away with transparency and supporting the outright repeal of the commercial hunting moratorium. In nearly every instance, the Caribbean nations have found themselves in the losing minority. Nevertheless, considering that Japan granted $8.18 million in overseas development aid to the area last year (earmarked for “the project for construction of fisheries center”) to Antigua and Barbuda alone, such strong loyalty is anything but surprising.

The region’s fidelity to the Japanese cause is both discouraging and strategically unwise. The eight Caribbean IWC members make up more than half of the larger Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Their propensity to shamelessly sell their votes undermines the organization’s strength and credibility; since everyone knows that Antigua and Barbuda and the others are on the take, CARICOM cannot gain the respect of the international community while its members are routinely bought off by pitifully small bags of gold. If the Caribbean bloc desires to play a legitimate role in international affairs, its leaders must reevaluate their strategy of cheapening their good nameand pursue a more principled policy stance when it comes to exercising CARICOM’s clout.

U.S. Exports its Airtight Homeland Security Strategies

In an effort ostensibly aimed at combating the security threat posed by drug trafficking and gang violence, Central American leaders agreed June 30 to implement a regional rapid response team comprised of police, military, and judicial agents to enforce cross-border criminal law. Such an act demonstrates cooperation between hemispheric neighbors to comply with the Bush administration’s pressure to address their role in the export of transnational crime to the United States. Central American gangs have expanded steadily in recent years, often serving as tributaries for Latin gangs in U.S. cities such as Los Angeles. Many of these U.S. gangs originated from the influx of migrant families who had fled the civil war and the extreme poverty that characterized Central American life in the 1980s. While the regional rapid response force has the potential to mitigate both local crime rates and the number of transnational criminals exported to the United States, care should be taken to ensure that increasing the authority of historically brutal Central American military forces does not threaten the strength of famously fragile democratic institutions. The United States announced plans to fund the personnel training and intelligence development of the new security force, although it will not directly participate in the team’s deployment. A more effective strategy for ensuring the force’s success would involve an equally dedicated effort by the United States to address the social and economic conditions that lead to gang membership and violent crime in the first place. Some observers feel suspicious of the fact that Roger Noriega’s assistant, Dan Fisk, was in attendance at the gathering and helping to call the shots from offstage. Along with Noriega, Fisk is one of the Administration’s hard core ideologues, leading some to believe the real purpose behind the proposed force is to deal with the issue of regional security, which in the past has meant butchering dissidents who oppose the status quo.

Rejecting Outdated Cuba Policy

Yesterday, by a vote of 211-208 the House voted against a measure permitting Cuban-Americans to visit their families in Cuba more often and eliminating the 45 year old trade embargo on Cuba.

Though the measure did not pass, the extreme closeness of yesterday’s vote, combined with Congress’s recent movements to relax travel sanctions to Cuba indicate the changing mindset of the U.S. legislature, most of whom no longer regards Cuba as the threatening force that it was seen as being in the 1960s. These past few years, a group of Midwestern senators from heavily agriculture states, lead by Max Baucus (D-MT) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan), have doughtily proposed amendments and measures to end the stalemate between Cuba and America. The international community seems to be following this trend; last week the European Union voted to freeze diplomatic sanctions on Cuba until June 2006, holding out an olive branch in the form of a year of “constructive dialogue.”

However, President Bush has shown no signs of straying from his anti-Castro mentality. This unflinching obduracy on the issue was in evidence in his remarks at the recent meeting of the OAS, where he suggested that sustaining sanctions was vital to achieving Cuba’s democratization. But how much longer will Americans tolerate the persistence of a dated grudge against a tiny island nation that demonstrably posses no threat to the U.S. or anyone else? Will the US stand by scornfully while the rest of the world finds reconciliation with Cuba with the U.S. in effect, shut out of the process?

Congress and Europe are beginning to acknowledge what Bush has yet to see: Cuba’s threat to democratic institutions has all but disappeared. Cuba is now merely an overwhelmingly impoverished, needy Caribbean nation, and no sanctions or embargoes will change that situation.

PetroCaribe: Venezuela’s Oil-for-Votes Program

Under the patronage of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Caribbean leaders came together at last Wednesday’s inaugural Caribbean Energy Summit to found the regional energy cooperative PetroCaribe. The project is intended to aid weak Caribbean economies in the face of staggering energy price increases by providing Venezuelan-subsidized crude oil to CARICOM’s fourteen signatories. PetroCaribe’s objective was not limited, however, to providing cheap petroleum; it is described by its architects as a “new political and commercial initiative” with a focus on regional solidarity and “a broad vision that touches not only on energy, but on the social, technological, and cultural.”

In other, perhaps more transparent language, PetroCaribe represents Chávez’s effort to utilize his country’s massive oil reserves to solidify support in the Caribbean. Though the concept of exchanging of oil for political loyalty is hardly new (Venezuela and Mexico have both provided subsidized petroleum to the region since 1980), PetroCaribe demonstrates Chávez’s economic and political astuteness, exploiting the fact that while oil plays a major role in the Caribbean economies, the region, excluding Cuba and the Dominican Republic, imports only 34,000 barrels per day. Compared to the 1.5 million barrels per day Venezuela supplies to the U.S., the Caribbean’s demand represents just a drop in the oil bucket. Effectively, with PetroCaribe, Chávez has made out like a Beltway Bandit, securing the allegiance of his Caribbean neighbors on a very low budget and adding a number of grateful English-speaking islands to the pro-Venezuela vote column. Also affected is U.S. diplomacy, which must acknowledge that in spite of Washington’s best efforts, it is the U.S. rather than Havana that is isolated from the area’s mainstream.